Earlier this year, I broke the fifth metatarsal of my right foot. It was just a crack, and it mended itself nicely. I've already stowed in the back of a closet what I've come to call my "first cane," and soon I'll resume running.
But I learned some things from this experience — things that apply to more of life than just breaking a bone in your foot. Here are four insights that might help people who lead teams or manage projects.
- When you sense trouble, pay attention
- For a week before my foot finally gave out, it hurt. I ignored it. I should have seen a doctor. I didn't, and the bone finally cracked.
- It's a lot easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble. When you notice signs of trouble in a project or in a team, find out what's going on. Don't let trouble simmer. It will only come to a boil. See "Some Things I've Learned Along the Way," Point Lookout for October 19, 2005.
- Ask for help
- I needed help for the little tasks in life that I normally do for myself. Some help came from friends and acquaintances; some came from paid services. But very little came without my seeking it or accepting that I needed it.
- It's OK to ask for help. It's OK to take your time, if you need to, when people around you are in a hurry. If you need something to get the job done, ask for it. See "Help for Asking for Help," Point Lookout for December 10, 2003, for more about asking for help.
- Some people might decline your request for help
- It's OK to
ask for help.
It's OK to
take your time.
- Some of the people I asked for help didn't provide it.
- Remember that when you ask for help, you're only asking, and the people you ask can decline, or offer something different from what you asked for. Prepare yourself for answers other than "yes." You might get a counter offer that could work, or you might get a flat "no." If that happens, you have to deal with that, too.
- Some help isn't help
- Some people, trying to help, actually make things more difficult. For instance, they hold open doors that stay open by themselves, and in doing so, they narrow the passageway.
- Know how to handle help that isn't really help. It might be necessary to explain why adding staff doesn't make the project go faster, or why some people are just the wrong people for the work to be done. Be clear.
Most important, remember that some help is difficult to repay. Real help requires that you know of a need, that the person in need agrees about the need, that you have permission to help, and that you be able to help. Those four factors must all be present, and if they aren't, you might not be able to return the favor. If you can return a favor, fine. But don't wait too long for the chance — "return" it to somebody else. Top Next Issue
For a fascinating exploration of returning help to somebody else, read Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Simon and Schuster, 2000) (Order from Amazon.com). Or see the film, with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, and directed by Mimi Leder (Order from Amazon.com).
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 18: Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on October 18.
- And on October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
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